Imago – Season 1, Episode 4 “Bounty”, Act 1

This entry is part 10 of 12 in the series Imago

In a blur of motion and venting plasma, the Imago unfolded from the nigh impossible dimensions of the bloom along with a small cloud of smaller craft that had tucked in close to it so as to be taken along when it left its last position.

“Bloom complete, Captain.” PHOEBE announced in a cheerful voice. “All refugee fleet ships accounted for and reports off local beacons shows zero Ex-Law activity and there are no warrant notices out for you or any of the registered crew. Estimated time to orbit over the second moon of Vaeta Seguro is six hours. We are well within ansible range and I can have a connection to this system’s data trunk within the hour.”

Gable nodded his thanks to the holographic avatar of the ship’s computer. “Thank you, PHOEBE. Get on the ship-wide announcement relay and let everyone aboard know we’re going to be setting down on the surface at Port Farthin. Anyone who wants to leave there is free—and quite frankly encouraged to, but all fleet ships need to either break off or be inside the Imago’s outer hull one hour before orbital rendezvous.”

“Because the smaller crafts can’t survive reentry, yes, Captain?” Phoebe asked, ever the over-eager student.

“Right. Also rig the out hull’s ventilation for full atmo exchange once we’re planet side. We’re way above the atmosphere recycling system’s capacity even with some of the refugees spending most of their time in the fleet ships.” He groaned softly and repositioned himself in his chair. “Heat exchange too. Please remind me to ping the outer rim ansibles of this place before we leave for nearby comets. Fresh methane ice wouldn’t hurt our chances of surviving a few more weeks.”

“Not that my people don’t all appreciate what you’ve been doing for us, Captain,” Ambassador Rebina tre’Ghevet, the freshly-minted First Officer of the Imago, had made her place on the bridge at the Navigator’s console, which sat directly in front of and down half a level from the Commander’s console. She had turned the seat around to look him in the eye. “But couldn’t we avoid all this trouble and danger by blooming straight to that planet you mentioned? Ceatus, correct?”

Gable briefly surveyed the rest of the bridge. Officers from the refugee fleet cycled in and out of most of the Imago’s command stations as an act of good faith for both sides of the fleet’s relationship with the larger ship. Most of them were redundant with PHOEBE in control of everything on the ship that couldn’t be automated, but it seemed to make them feel better.

They were of the same species and nationality as Rebina: Fenidra from the nation of Ghevet. And true to her surname, Rebina tre’Ghevet was the one they recognized as a leader—if only because all of her actually important and respected family were dead, though in recent days, she’d proven herself beyond her bloodline. Because of this, almost all eyes on the bridge were on the conversation instead of the instrumentation.

To them, Adrian Gable was just a friendly captain giving them a tow. Tension mounted in the room every time Rebina deferred to him or her gave her an order.

Doing his best not to notice any of the micro-politics going on around him, Gable shook his head. “It’s the end of winter on the part of Ceatus most likely to take kindly to new residents. Can’t drop all these people on a world in the middle of winter without food, proper clothing and seeds that’ll grown on the planet. So we’re visiting a few barter-friendly locales to trade whatever we can for those commodities.”

He held Rebina’s gaze for an extra beat before saying to the room in general. “Anyone manning a non-critical console is dismissed to prepare for planetary insertion. Ambassador tre’Ghevet, I’ll be holding an officer’s meeting in the officers’ commons in one hour.”

With that, he stood from his seat and headed for the bridge’s exit. “PHOEBE, the bridge is yours. Alert us if anything changes or if any new ships or anomalies show up on scans.”

“Will do, Captain!”

Gable gave her a nod before stepping into the express lift to and from the bridge. The ride was almost instant, as the officers’ quarters were only two levels above the bridge and accessibly only by that specific lift. The doors opened up onto a the commons.

Back when the Imago was a warship, the commons was a somber place where the officers were mandated to eat in order to keep them separated from the rank and file. It was one of the few rooms Saadis Vinto had time to fully remodel before Gable retook his ship.

Where once had been two ranks of tables and a food preparation area was now dominated by a semicircular couch made from the supple scales of a creature Gable wasn’t familiar with, dyed a luminescent blue and white. It encircled a raised stage with a poll jutting out of the center because that was the classy kind of person Saadis Vinto was, and on the other side of it was a fully stocked bar that could also serve as a kitchen. Smaller tables lined the edges of the room save for the two doors leading to the surrounding hallway leading to the officers’ quarters.

Not that he was particularly attached to the old design, but Gable was already giving a priority to altering that room back into a conventionally usable space once the refugees were safe and all major repairs were dealt with. The couch and the stage at least. He appreciated the bar on a number of levels.

He went straight behind the bar and pulled out a bottle of common haast, a spirit derived from the dominant native grass of Kammiayden, a moon near the Zact Political Core that was one of the richest worlds there thanks to haast. A measure went into a tumbler straight, then he poured a second one and set it aside, setting his gaze on the doors to the lift.

Only one minute later, said doors opened for Rebina, who stepped into the commons with a purpose.

“…or the meeting can start in five minutes instead. Drink, Ambassador?” Gable slid the second glass across the counter.

“I’d rather know what you’re hiding from my people, Captain,” Rebina said, managing to sound respectful even as she made no effort to keep the affront out of her voice. “And I know it’s more than one, since the ships computer let slip that bit about warrants.”

Gable took a sip of the haast while shaking his head. “I told you about how I reclaimed my stolen property from Saadis Mors and his son. Are you just unaware of how influential he is?” He directed his gaze to one bar stool in particular. “PHOEBE, can you please get the Ambassador up to date on Saadis Mors?”

PHOEBE’s holographic form materialized sitting on the bar stool, as did a orange, red and yellow drink in a glass resembling a giant tulip flower with a paper umbrella and silver foil pinwheel sticking out of it. She smiled congenially at Regina and began to recite:

“Saadis Mors, son and sole heir of Omarru Mors, allegedly the infamous head of the Edge of Oblivion criminal network. Rumor says that Saadis uses his string of luxury resort stations to legitimize his name while he maintains his father’s contacts—both legitimate and not. He has significant pull with the Zact government and has operated without oversight from them for five years and attempts to prosecute or litigate against him in that time have all be blocked from the upper echelons of the Zact power structure. He is effectively untouchable.”

Taking another sip, Gable leaned on the bar. “Thank you, PHOEBE. Can you please alert the other officers that the meeting is starting early?”

“Of course, Captain. Doing so now.”

Rebina gave the hologram a level look. “Aren’t you meant to be manning the bridge?”

“I am,” Phoebe replied with her usual chipperness. “I can run up to two hundred and fifty-six individual instances of myself throughout the ship or via mobile console without any loss of data shared among them.”

“Captain, as the First Officer, I must protest your choices for officer positions.”

If she felt any insult at that PHOEBE didn’t show it, merely taking a moment to enjoy her virtual drink.

Gable merely shrugged and took another drink himself. “I can’t agree with you, Ambassador. If you haven’t noticed, we have very little in the way of permanent crew. But even if you haven’t, I hope you’ve noticed that we’re actually extremely lucky with the ones we do have. Now I’m guessing you’ve got no issue with Hala, so that leaves our Navigator-slash-Pilot, and our Flight Commander.”

“The latter more so than the former, but yes. While there is some president among the Ghevet of giving artificial intelligences command level permissions, we would never…”

She didn’t get farther as the sound of Gable slamming his tumbler down on the counter cut her off. The light, familiar tone of his voice was replaced by something made of steel. “First of all, no offense to your people or their loss, Ambassador, but how the Ghevet fleets did things doesn’t matter here. Second, I’ve seen first hand that PHOEBE is not the standard issue AI. Believe me, I didn’t want to see it myself, but she is an above average pilot—better than any that have served under me.”

“Why thank you Captain.” PHOEBE raised her glass in toast, only to be ignored as Gable continued on.

“As for Ckliika, you were there: she’s my responsibility now and I intend to make the best of it. Fortunately for us, my ‘responsibility’ is the only aerospace combat pilot we have. And even though she is the most antisocial creature I’ve come into contact with since the Zact took over, she’s proven willing to train anyone who’s willing to risk their lives in the stripped-down fighters that were left on board and whatever re-purposed junker or battle-damaged hulks that came in the fleet. The problem is—and it seems to be a pattern forming—is that your people have some sort of problem with Carrigs.”

Rebina rolled her eyes in disbelief. “Every group that has ever trafficked with them has ‘some sort of problem’ with Carrigs. They eat the corpses of their enemies, their forces are entirely mercenary and will turn on allies instantly if a better offer comes along and—“

Eyes fixed on the glass in his hand, Gable interrupted again, “I would bet the Imago that whatever that third thing is, it boils down to the fact that they’re not an engineered species like Fenidra of Spacelings.”

As a trained diplomat, Rebina didn’t hem or haw like others would, merely transitioned to a new argument. “Certainly not. I have absolutely no issue with Chief Engineer Aendren—”

“Halanen,” corrected Gable, “Most cultures on his homeworld use the family name first so for formal address, he’s Chief Engineer Halanen—not that I have any plans on enforcing formality on this ship.”

“Chief Officer Halanen then. My apologies. I have no issue with him, and he is a Lopec; a naturally-occurring sapient species. My problem isn’t with Carrigs as a species, but as a culture.”

Gable let go of his glass to clap his hand. “Excellent, because Ckliika isn’t a member of the Carrig culture, she’s a stellar nomad. Problem solved.”

Rebina’s expression didn’t change. “Also, I contest the idea that she is the only skilled pilot.”

“If there are others in the refugee fleet, they haven’t exactly made themselves known.”

“I’m making myself known now,” said Regina. Taking note of Gable’s raised eyebrow, she straightened her back. “Every member of the Ghevet royal family is required to serve in the armed forces. I chose the Aerospace Combat Force and earned three chevrons as a fighter pilot during the Civil War.” When Gable didn’t move, let alone reply, she added, “I have my own craft also—though there is some assembly required.”

Finally, Gable responded, giving a slight nod. “Really? What make?”

“A third generation Model Gamma Harrul Interceptor with a deployable reentry shield. It can do battle in and out of atmosphere and even switch between the two without retrofits.”

Gable nodded as the lift doors opened yet again to admit Hala and the looming, form of Ckliika. “That’s a nice ship, I won’t lie. But I feel the need to point one thing out to you, First Officer.”

“And that would be?”

“I just pointed it out: you are the First Officer. I need you on the bridge with me or in my place, not flying combat missions, especially not when we already have someone who can do the job.”

“This one wishes to take her honor an position?” Ckliika hunched herself up onto the stool next to Rebina, examining her with uncomfortable closeness that the diplomat only just managed to not react to. After lengthy deliberation, she clacked her mandibles together. “This one would not survive fighting as she fights. The G forces would crush weak flesh and organs. Not even tiny scales would protect her.”

Rebina folded her hands in front of her on the counter, refusing to even look at her fellow officer. “I will have you know that I have been rated capable of withstanding a sustained 10g without redouts.”

“The least of her brothers and sisters can withstand twenty-four.” Ckliika boasted.

Hala ignored both and bellied up to the bar, reaching over and simply taking the glass Gable had set before Rebina. “As absolutely valuable I assume this mutual display of prowess is, I take it that you have better reasons than this to call me away from completely rebuilding this old ship’s innards so she doesn’t roast us alive in the next week or so.”

“Right.” Gable drummed his tumbler on the counter again. “Ambassador, Ckliika: no one is replacing anyone, so if we can get off that, we can tend to the actual important issue before us.” He didn’t wait fro them to react, nodding to PHOEBE. “If you’d please call up the footage you relayed to me before we bloomed today?”

The hologram saluted. “Yes sir!” With an unnecessary wave of her hands, she expanded her hologram to include a holographic screen in the air in front of her fellow officers. It displayed a shot from an exterior camera angling past one of the docking arms of Nostal Station, where Imago had spent the last three days bartering and transferring coolant. There was a barely visible dot positioned beyond the docking arm.

“The Captain asked that I monitor at all times for signs of pursuit in the form of any out of place or anomalous activity or readings. While reviewing my archive of the past week, I discovered this:” The little dot was highlighted. “Higher definition visual scanning revealed this to be a rarely seen ship I was only able to recognize thanks to the ship’s existent archive files.”

On the screen, the image of the docking arm and the spot was replaced by a sharper image of a metallic pod that appeared to be wrapped in metallic ribbons. Beside it, a set of schematics appeared, documenting the design of the same craft.

“A Coray Aerospace Agency Model 001 Remor Ultra-Tactical Craft.” Despite just being a holographic projection of a computer program, PHOEBE blushed. “Reading the specifications, I’m jealous. The Remor is the smallest bloom-capable ship ever constructed. But the most impressive feature are the ten articulated maneuvering arms. They serve was extendable capillary cooling sails that allow the ship to mask its heat signature as part of the heat eddy of a larger ship. They’re also capable of converting into ailerons and jet engines in atmosphere or weapon mounts and magnetic grapplers out of atmosphere. It’s most famous for being able to maneuver or even bloom in close to a larger ship, grapple on, and allow its two-to-four person crew to infiltrate unnoticed.”

Rebina looked up in alarm. “Does that mean we could have been infiltrated before the bloom?”

“No,” said Gable, “When she searched other footage from the past week, she picked out the same ship at Linka Station. Whoever this is knows could have grappled on to us at any time or bloomed into the inner hull while we had the outer hull open for the refugee fleet and done a lot of damage.

“Indeed,” added Hala, “The Remor is one of the most expensive ships ever built and the Zact put them into production after one of the test units managed to leave one of Imago’s sister ships, Valiant Heart of the Eternal Empire dead in the water for over thirty-two hours thanks to sabotage. If they wanted to do that, we would never have left Linka Station.”

Nodding his thanks to his friend, Gable took over one more. “To me, this indicates that whoever this is doesn’t want to risk being bogged down fighting their way through the refugees. That in turn suggests bounty hunter. Now, it could be for me or Ckliika on behalf of Saadis Mors, or they could be after you, Ambassador; sent either by the Ex-Laws or some of your enemies from back home. They could be after someone else on this ship entirely. None of that matters to me because I’m not willing to give anyone up.

“That said, whoever this is, they’ll wait until we’re planetside and unable to bloom to escape. It takes seventeen hours at best to get this ship back into space, so flight is not going to be an option once this bounty hunter makes his move. That leaves one option: fight.”

Series Navigation<< Imago – S01E03 “Pilot Part 3” – Act IIIImago – Season 1, Episode 4 “Bounty”, Act 2 >>

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Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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One Comment

  1. Typos

    her gave her
    he gave her

    that’ll grown
    that’ll grow

    and accessibly only
    and accessible only

    onto a the
    onto the

    a poll jutting
    a pole jutting

    some president among
    some precedent among

    Fenidra of Spacelings.”
    Fenidra or Spacelings.”

    honor an position?”
    honor and position?”

    wait fro them
    wait for them

    serve was extendable
    serve as extendable

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